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Keyword-driven testing: reasons to use or skip. Part 1

Automation is a topic that is under constant discussion and improvement today.  Its consistency has been already proved.  But for IT industry in general this practice pretends to be more and more effective and applicable, to fit QA process needs better.  One of its means is cost effective usage of testing. Just imagine that you can double return on investment KPI. On the one hand you save money, on the other can increase quality using the same budget or mitigate QA budget risks on stabilization and delivery stage.

There are lots of interpretations of keyword driven approach in the world of test automation. Different tools allow using keywords.  But not all that cases may be a true keyword driven. The way I used to describe it in simple words is: “manual testers mostly create test cases using keywords and test developers create code which implements particular keywords via available interfaces”.

What is coming out that meaning?

  1. The keyword driven approach helps to achieve better ROI in long term saving money on support activities.
  2. It optimizes (moves down) technical threshold for stuff who may be involved in automated tests development process i.e. persons who prepare description of tests which is pretty the same like in test automation in terms of keyword driven. We may say that a person who prepares description of test using already implemented keywords creates automated test the same time.
  3. The last but not least – it maintains the relations between test developers and testers themselves regarding automated tests which positively impacts QA budgets and overall process.

Of course, there are patterns for using that approach like for data driven or other ones we are aware of.  For instance, you may apply scripting technique which requires less money for initial test development, if your test process assumes coverage of stable critical functionality (meaning smoke test) the frequency of builds is closer to daily basis, and testing is required for more than 4-6 upcoming months.

Thinking of Keyword driven approach you should ensure that you have a lot of business logic. There are similar actions which can be used in different test cases (potential keywords), the business logic is too complex for Data-driven approach, which may be extremely effective in some other particular cases.

So, you never know without trying! We decided – it’s worth doing. I’d like to share some of the most important findings. One of the crucial requirements here is that special description format should be applied from the very beginning of testing activities. Taking into account this fact and absence of experience with tools that are specially designed for Keyword driven approach implementation we decided to split our first Keyword driven practice in two steps.

  • Step 1 – Proof of Concept (POC). This is the base for the article you are reading. Mentioned step purposed to try out a particular tool, check basic automation indicators like execution/support efforts, check if manual tester might be able to handle test case description.
  • Step 2 – Using Keyword driven approach. The second one is to apply this approach from the very beginning of the particular project and cover the whole QA cycle using it.

Thus, we have found a “guinea pig” for the first step and here is a description (without mentioning concrete customer, of course).

Solutions comparison

Existent solution Keyword driven POC
Automation approach Scripting Keyword driven
Programming Language C# Python
Test Automation framework a1qa SMART framework Robot framework
Automation tool Selenium Selenium
Test execution system TFS Jenkins

Basically, we have selected quite stable scope in terms of business logic and user interface changes. It was decided to select rather large scope which guaranties that there will be enough keywords to make measurements and to check test development abilities using keywords only. As a matter of fact, 200 test cases were selected for automation.

It should be mentioned that selected project was quite dynamic and required daily test executions. It was necessary to speed up solution comparison process.

One of the required factors was to get a situation when test development efforts on the keyword driven test framework are less labor-intensive in comparison with actual automation way for existent solution. We achieved mentioned result just after 150+ cases were developed.

Some good lessons have been also learned about Keyword driven while tests were developing. There are top-3 issues you should consider applying keyword driven practices to the project:

  • TBD 1– First tests on Robot Framework KDT requires quite more than average efforts (5-6 hours when scripts with DDT regular approach requires 3-4 hours). Efforts decrease with list of base keywords being completed and available for re-use (Down to 1-2 hours).
  • TBD 2 – The tester is required to learn several special formats & keywords for creating the customized keywords. It takes some time to get familiar with framework specifics on tests development (IDE, libraries, etc.)
  • TBD 3 – Robot Framework execution engine doesn’t help contain default mechanisms implementing itself to solve parallel test execution problem.  It was quite a big challenge to implement this mechanism. We tried to run scripts simultaneously on a single VM by using several jobs in Jenkins, but it failed because of AUT UI specific interactions: some UI elements were available only in the currently available browser instance.

A soon as a number of tests were ready, we started actual comparison.

In the next post we`ll provide you  with the results we got.

The article by Dmitry Tishchenko was published in UK magazine “European Software Tester”.

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